Persuasion marketing cuts to your core. It targets one’s deepest, often innate desires or fears. In Storynomics, a marketing book written by Robert McKee and Thomas Gerace, they write of “touch[ing] people’s basic, unchanging instincts” to persuade them to buy your product. (Storynomics, Page 25)
To successfully implement persuasion marketing techniques, you need to do three things: master emotional manipulation, tell powerful stories, and carefully consider how customers might perceive your content.
Villainous marketers emotionally manipulate consumers
McKee and Gerace describe persuasion marketing as a form of emotional manipulation. That label sounds harsh and downright villainous, but they’re not wrong. Persuasion is a softer, more palatable synonym of manipulation.
Marketers are trying to get consumers to feel a certain type of way to motivate them to take action. That action could be a purchase or simply seeking out more information about the brand.
Storynomics positions pleasure and pain as the two primary emotions to be evoked through one’s marketing initiatives. Both are umbrellas for a wide range of more specific emotions such as happiness and dread.
Is it not manipulation to create a commercial with the purpose of drawing out either a positive or negative reaction from the viewer?
Eco-friendly brands might use imagery of polar bears on melting ice caps to elicit sympathy. This could persuade consumers to do right by their planet and its vulnerable creatures.
One sympathetic main character (i.e. the polar bears) can stand in as a spokesperson for a brand's mission (i.e. protecting the planet). Specificity carries weight. If you present an audience with a photo of the melting ice caps sans the polar bear, would it have the same effect? Probably not.
This manipulation-rooted marketing strategy reminds me of my driver’s ed class. Car-related horror stories were too-often told to scare us into following the rules. I distinctly recall the teacher using a student as an example. He fictionalized a horrific accident in which her family members perished. Unsurprisingly, she was brought to tears.
While I don’t condone making teenagers cry in a room full of other teenagers to enforce safe driving practices, it does teach a valuable lesson on the power of storytelling.
Persuasion meets storytelling
The Farmer’s Dog 2023 Super Bowl commercial, “Forever,” is a prime example of storytelling marketing practiced in conjunction with persuasion marketing.
The dog food brand uses storytelling to “emotionally manipulate” its audience, thereby persuading members to purchase its dog food. Its manipulation was so advanced that I not only cried throughout the majority of the commercial but also after it ended (and when watching it for a second time).
Sure, the Farmer's Dog does have a natural advantage given dogs have been professional heartstring-tuggers for years, but poor storytelling would have resulted in a diminished intensity of emotion. "Forever" doesn't skimp on the story.
The commercial presents viewers with a heartwarming montage of a girl growing up alongside her lovable family dog, having the responsibility of feeding him (Farmer's Dog, of course).
The pair is given names, Ava and Bear, respectively, to fully immerse viewers in the story. We watch Bear be present for all of Ava's highs and lows, a comfort and steady, positive force in Ava's life.
I predicted the commercial would end with Bear's devastating death, but instead we see he and Ava together in bed. Her baby and husband are there too, but her eyes are on Bear, their bond never fractured by her growing family.
He's older, graying, as she takes over singing the tender song that played throughout the commercial. Her voice tells Bear, "I want to love you forever," though we know his time is likely near. Bear's expression is priceless, his sweet eyes filled with emotion.
In the most moving moment of Ava and Bear's story, the perspective shifts, the audience glimpsing their shared life through Bear's eyes. Such a beautiful mutual affection and unfettered love is displayed.
I am tearing up writing this. That's storytelling's power. Don't underestimate it.
Tell a detailed universal story
The Farmer's Dog tells a story that's universal, one that surely resonates with dog owners everywhere. However, it's not so broad that it lacks in detail. Details are vital to a story.
A story without detail is like a painting of a sky with only one shade of blue and no clouds, birds, or sun. Such work comes across as uninspired and devoid of the emotion humans naturally crave.
The Farmer's Dog commercial drenches Ava and Bear's story in joy and melancholy. We are "manipulated" into smiling and then crying. (Or at the very least, we are made to feel some sense of sadness at the rapid passage of time and the inevitability of Bear's death.)
The tagline at the end reads, "Nothing matters more than more years together." In a sense, the Farmer's Dog is insinuating that if we don't invest in its human-grade dog food, we'll get less years with our dogs. That is some hearty emotional manipulation. I applaud you, the Farmer's Dog.
Perception. The brain. Persuasion marketing.
Perception is an important factor to consider when taking the persuasion marketing route.
Storynomics brings to light a fascinating study conducted by Caltech in 2008, in which participants were offered bottles of wine listed at various price points. One taste test paired $10 and $90 bottles. When asked which wine they preferred, participants chose the more expensive wine, when in reality both wines were exactly the same.
What does this say about the human mind? McKee and Gerace quickly dispel the idea that the participants were snobs, revealing that the Caltech study observed participants’ brains using an fMRI device. The pleasure centers in the participants’ brains lit up when tasting the wine they believed to be of a higher quality.
Our perception changes our brains' responses to stimuli, such as what we see in commercials.
To ace persuasion marketing, you must understand the human psyche and how to harness emotions and storytelling to have your brand be perceived in a favorable way.